Ryan Saunders

Timberwolves Notes: Chemistry, Beasley, Rosas, Saunders

Timberwolves coach Ryan Saunders believes the team built chemistry and relationships during their mini-camp, according to Chris Hine of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“Our No. 1 goal within this week was to compete,” Saunders said. “Because it’s been a really long time since they’ve been able to do that in more of a structured setting. Then we also wanted to connect with this group. While you’re connecting, you also want to be able to build relationships. We talked about it where the team that is the most connected … will get a jump start on next season whenever next season starts.”

We have more on the Timberwolves:

  • Team president Gersson Rosas offered support for restricted free agent Malik Beasley, who was recently arrested for narcotics possession and possession of a stolen gun, Hine writes in a separate story. Rosas has said he wants to re-sign Beasley, who was acquired from the Nuggets in February. “He’s family. We’re going to support him,” Rosas said. “We’re going to do the best that we can. But he’s got some things he’s got to take care of. The legal process has some things that have to be processed and we’ll go from there, but we’re a family and we work through things together.”
  • Rosas has formed a strong bond with Saunders because they share the same vision for the franchise, according to Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic“When you have a big-picture perspective and you understand that you’re trying to reset a program, you have to have that perspective in place. I’ve talked about it and I’m fortunate I have a head coach that values the same thing,” Rosas said. “We don’t want sacrifices for the sake of incremental wins. That does nothing for us in the long term.”
  • What are the biggest questions surrounding the team this offseason? We took a closer look in our Offseason Preview.

Timberwolves Notes: Roster, Draft Picks, Saunders

It has been one year since Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas was hired by the team. In those 12 months, Rosas has overhauled the roster to the point that only two players who were under contract when he joined the franchise – Karl-Anthony Towns and Josh Okogie – are still with the Wolves today.

“Building an organization, building a foundation, the DNA and the values of who we’re going to be, I feel like we’ve done that in a very tangible way after year one,” Rosas said in a phone interview, per Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. “Roster-wise, our front office staff deserves a ton of credit because as we sit here, we’ve changed over 13 out of 15 roster spots. … That typically takes organizations two to three years. That we were able to do it by the trade deadline was quite an achievement for our staff.”

Many of Minnesota’s roster changes occurred at this year’s trade deadline. And the fact that the Wolves were able to acquire D’Angelo Russell, Malik Beasley, and Juan Hernangomez at that point means that the club may not have to be as active in the offseason. As Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes, that could be a good thing, given the coronavirus-related uncertainty surrounding this year’s free agent period.

“We don’t have all of our pieces,” Rosas said. “But we have a large majority of our pieces in places where we can push development, philosophy and culture to a group of players that are going to represent this organization for hopefully a long period of time.”

Here’s more from Rosas on the Wolves:

  • Rosas didn’t dismiss the possibility that more roster changes could be on the way, even after the makeover that has taken place over the last year. “I yearn for the days when we can have continuity and we can keep the group together and we can grow together,” he said, according to Krawczynski. “That means we’re winning and we’re in contention and we’re in the last phase of a championship team. But until we get to that, there’s going to be change.”
  • Rosas, who spoke over the weekend about the likelihood of the Timberwolves having three of the top 33 selections in this year’s draft, didn’t rule out the idea of using one or more of those picks in trades, as Hine relays. “(It’s an) opportunity to continue to build out the roster, whether it’s young players you continue to add to our talent base, or using those picks in trades to acquire players that may be more ready to help us now,” Rosas said. “It puts us in a very strong position.”
  • Many new heads of basketball operations choose to put their own stamps on teams by bringing in a new head coach. However, as Krawczynski details, Rosas concluded last spring after a brief search that Ryan Saunders was the right man for the job. “I can’t say enough about Ryan in terms of not only his fit because of the philosophy, but his fit in terms of the type of person he is,” Rosas said. “We share a lot of values. We share a lot of perspectives and vision of how we want an organization to be run.”
  • Rosas also recently discussed Minnesota’s desire to re-sign both Beasley and Hernangomez in restricted free agency this offseason.

Northwest Notes: Timberwolves, Presti, Jazz

Given how much turnover the Timberwolves‘ roster has undergone in recent months, the hiatus has at least provided president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas and head coach Ryan Saunders with an opportunity to pause and get familiar with their current players, as Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes.

“We’ve gotten to know our guys better than we had a month ago,” Rosas said. “Anything and everything that matters to them we’re trying to understand and we’re trying to build a commitment, we’re trying to build a community based on who individuals are and what they’re going through right now.”

According to Krawczynski, Saunders has made an effort to directly engage with his players since the hiatus began, reaching out to talk to them about their families and about basketball, and sending the message that the team cares about their well-being. As Krawczynski notes, it’s a part of the job that Saunders excels at and one that is more necessary than ever during this time.

Here’s more from around the Northwest:

  • Dealing with Jordan Clarkson‘s free agency, working out an extension for Donovan Mitchell, and figuring out a good use for their mid-level exception will be among the top items on the Jazz‘s to-do list this offseason, writes Tony Jones of The Athletic.
  • Ryan Novozinsky of Daily Thunder makes the case that Thunder general manager Sam Presti deserves to win 2020’s Executive of the Year award, arguing that the GM’s “magic” is the reason why Oklahoma City was a playoff team this season while also setting itself up well for years to come.
  • In case you missed it, a pair of general managers for Northwest teams – Arturas Karnisovas (Nuggets) and Justin Zanik (Jazz) – have interviewed for a top basketball operations position in the Bulls’ front office. Karnisovas is viewed as the current frontrunner. (Update: The Bulls are finalizing a deal to hire Karnisovas).

Timberwolves Owner Talks Saunders, D-Lo, Wiggins

Although Timberwolves president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas is responsible for making roster decisions in Minnesota, any trade requires the approval of owner Glen Taylor. As such, Taylor was very involved in basketball decisions at this year’s trade deadline, when the Wolves traded away half their roster in a series of major deals.

In a conversation with Sid Hartman of The Star Tribune, Taylor said that he and Rosas “talk quite often” and that the team had spent much of the season preparing for moves like the one that sent Robert Covington to Houston and especially the one that saw D’Angelo Russell land in Minnesota.

Taylor said he’s “excited” to have acquired so many promising young players that are in the same age range as Karl-Anthony Towns, suggesting that the team’s hope is for those players to continue to improve and grow together.

Taylor’s conversation with Hartman included a handful of other noteworthy comments, including the Wolves owner’s thoughts on head coach Ryan Saunders‘ job security, trading former No. 1 overall pick Andrew Wiggins, and more. Here are a few of the highlights:

On whether he has considered replacing Saunders during the Timberwolves’ current 6-29 stretch:

“No, no, no, he is hired. A young guy and he is going to get better as time goes on and we just have to give him that time.

“[Saunders] is excited about this change that now he has guys that can play the kind of basketball he wants. He is really a believer in the three-point shot, moving the ball fast, and getting up and down the court. He needed some players that were better three-point shooters than what we had previously.”

On the front office continuing to push for Russell after completing its Covington trade:

“They kept working on Russell, that was the main thing that they wanted to accomplish. They were able to do that and get two young guys out of Denver (Malik Beasley and Juan Hernangomez) that were part of our hopes for the future. It just dragged on — these things are difficult — almost to the last few hours before everything fell into place. But it was very interesting to me that normally if part of this would have fell into place, we would have been happy. But in this particular case, everything went our way. We think we have helped our team and we have probably helped some other teams. It is probably a win-win.”

On Wiggins becoming easier to move this season than he was last summer:

“I don’t think there was any secret to that. Andrew worked really hard. He didn’t have the best year last year, and we worked really hard with him this summer to improve and I think we saw some improvements. That allowed us to have the chance to make a trade this year where last year I don’t think it was there with any team.”

“… I think [Warriors head coach] Steve Kerr said it exactly right, this should be a win-win. Us getting Russell should really help us and them getting Wiggins on their team should really help them. Wiggins won’t be expected to be the main scorer. He can fit in with their team. I’m hopeful it works out for him, and I’m confident it will work out with Russell on our team.”

Northwest Notes: Kings, Wolves, Whiteside, Noel

New Trail Blazers trio Trevor Ariza, Caleb Swanigan and Wenyen Gabriel are excited for their opportunity in Portland, according to Casey Holdahl of Blazers.com. And their new teammates are looking forward to integrating them into the team’s system as 19-27 Portland competes for the eighth seed in the West.

The Trail Blazers are currently the No. 11 seed, just 2.5 games shy of the current eighth seed, the 21-24 Grizzlies. The 34 year-old Ariza appears the most likely new player to be incorporated into the current rotation. He is in the first of a two-year, $25MM contract he signed with the Kings in 2019.

“At this point, we’ve really simplified everything that we’ve done over the years, so… I don’t think it will be that hard to catch on to,” said star Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard. “Like today at practice, they put in some of the sets that we’ve been running, the things that we do a lot and we didn’t have to stop practice to be like ‘Alright, this what we gotta do.’ [Ariza] just kinda remembered it, it was pretty simple for him.” 

There’s more out of the Northwest Division:

  • During halftime of a seventh straight Timberwolves loss, irked coach Ryan Saunders berated his team, according to Chris Hine of the Minnesota Star Tribune. Much of that frustration was directed at disappointing $148MM wing Andrew Wiggins. “He was yelling at me a lot of the time,” Wiggins confirmed. “I needed it. The first half was a bad first half. I wasn’t aggressive.”
  • Though the Trail Blazers are clearly eager to cut more contracts to get under the luxury tax this spring, The Athletic’s Jason Quick suspects that GM Neil Olshey may have trouble offloading $98MM center Hassan Whiteside. Quick puts Whiteside’s odds of remaining in Portland through the February 6 trade deadline at 50/50.
  • Thunder backup center Nerlens Noel will miss tonight’s tilt against the Timberwolves due to a surgical procedure for a left cheek fracture, according to an ESPN report. The timeline on Noel’s absence will be updated next week. Noel, the No. 6 pick in 2013, has been productive in limited minutes for Oklahoma City, averaging 8.2 PPG and 5.2 RPG.

Wolves Notes: Saunders, Teague, Free Agents, Towns

While the Timberwolves would like to return to the playoffs this season, the focus will be on building long-term success, head coach Ryan Saunders tells Chris Hine of The Star Tribune. Last year’s 36-46 disappointment began with a chaotic training camp that opened amid a trade demand from Jimmy Butler and a public war with ownership and coach Tom Thibodeau. Saunders, who took over the team at midseason, says the road toward rebuilding will start with a much calmer camp.

“I think you need to look at it in different scopes and see where you are at certain points of the season,” he said. “We’re not looking to just get into the playoffs for one year. That’s not our goal. And we understand that. So with that, you want to make sure you’re building for sustainable success. You want to make sure you’re doing the right things each day.”

There’s more from Minnesota:

  • This will be a pivotal season for Jeff Teague after he opted in for another year at $19MM, writes Britt Robson of The Athletic. Teague was a favorite of Thibodeau, who saw the point guard as a stabilizing presence on a team of veterans. However, he’s coming off the worst season of his 10-year career and doesn’t seem to be in the plans for the new management team, which tried to sign D’Angelo Russell in free agency and wanted to land Darius Garland in the draft. Teague hopes to be healthier after missing 40 games last season with a variety of injuries and undergoing ankle surgery in April.
  • The Wolves will have limited options to find a point guard on the free agent market next summer, observes Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic. Kyle Lowry will be the top name on the list, but he’ll be 34 and won’t fit in with the team’s youth movement. Dejounte Murray could be a restricted free agent if he doesn’t reach an extension with the Spurs, but San Antonio is likely to match any offer sheet. Fred VanVleet could be available, but the Wolves would face a competitive market for him. Krawczynski adds that Minnesota may take another shot at Russell, trying to swing a deal with the Warriors in February if Klay Thompson is close to returning to action.
  • In a separate story, Krawczynski examines the questions surrounding every player on the Wolves’ roster heading into camp, including the importance of Karl-Anthony Towns becoming the team leader, whether Andrew Wiggins can fix his game and what newcomers Jake Layman, Shabazz Napier, Noah Vonleh and Jordan Bell will bring.

Northwest Notes: Schroder, Timberwolves, Bol Bol

The possibility of Dennis Schroder getting traded by the Thunder will increase once the regular season begins, Brett Dawson of The Athletic opines. Schroder’s presence on the roster made more sense with a team built around stars Russell Westbrook and Paul George. Schroder is likely to get fewer minutes on a rebuilding club with two other natural point guards ahead of him, but once teams get a better look at their rosters and more free agents are eligible to be traded after December 15, Schroder could be on the move, Dawson adds.

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • The Timberwolves want their G League affiliate in Iowa to mimic what the parent club is doing, Jon Krawczynski of The Athletic writes. Iowa coach Sam Newman-Beck will employ similar systems, both a motion offense and switching defense, to what Minnesota coach Ryan Saunders is running with the Timberwolves. “We want the players when they’re coming to Iowa or going to Minnesota to feel like it’s the same playbook, that there’s no change,” Newman-Beck said.
  • Rookie center Bol Bol‘s two-way contract with the Nuggets runs for the maximum of two years, Jeff Siegel of Early Bird Rights tweets. He’ll receive $50K guarantees in each of those seasons. Denver’s lack of a G League affiliate complicate its plans for Bol’s development. However, the Nuggets have successfully utilized a number of teams for their two-way players in past seasons, according to Adam Johnson of 2Ways10Days.com.
  • The Jazz are among the teams with official full 20-man rosters heading into training camp.

Northwest Notes: Whiteside, Grant, Gilgeous-Alexander, Jazz

Trail Blazers point guard Damian Lillard believes he can bring out the best of Hassan Whiteside, the enigmatic center acquired from the Heat as part of the multi-team Jimmy Butler sign-and-trade. Lillard has a good friendship with Whiteside and that should help prevent Whiteside from getting over-emotional, according to Jason Quick of The Athletic.

“I said, ‘So this is what this is going to come down to: If in the middle of the game, you are not getting the ball and you mad, and you felt like somebody should have done something, you come and say something to me,” Lillard said. “And if (Trail Blazers) Coach (Terry Stotts) is getting on you, or Coach takes you out and you get mad at Coach, me and you have to be able to communicate. Even if we argue, that’s fine. But we have to be able to get through to each other.”

We have more from the Northwest Division:

  • Nuggets coach Michael Malone is thrilled with the acquisition of forward Jerami Grant from the Thunder, as he told Alex Labidou of the team’s website. He believes Grant will mesh well with franchise player Nikola Jokic and significantly improve the team’s defense. “Watching film, he’s guarded Damian Lillard, James Harden, Anthony Davis, the guy can guard anybody,” Malone said. “I think that versatility is exciting.”
  • Shai Gilgeous-Alexander gives the Thunder a long-term answer at point guard who may have a better future than Paul George, Berry Tramel of The Oklahoman writes. Gilgeous-Alexander is nine years younger than George, Tramel notes, and he displayed better defensive and shooting skills than Russell Westbrook did in his rookie year.
  • Jazz center Rudy Gobert shrugs off the Clippers’ acquisitions of Kawhi Leonard and George, confident that the Jazz have done enough this offseason to become serious contenders. “We don’t want to pay too much attention into what the other teams are doing,” Gobert told Tony Jones of The Athletic. “We want to keep working hard, and we want to stay hungry. We know what we have to do. Whenever we step out onto the court, the goal is to win. We know that we have a chance to do some good things this year. But we want to take things one step at a time.”
  • The Timberwolves have brought back Bryan Gates as an assistant coach under Ryan Saunders, according to an Associated Press report. Gates has been on the Kings’ staff the last three seasons but spent the 2015/16 season with Minnesota.

D’Angelo Russell Has T-Wolves Atop Wish List

Marc Stein of The New York Times is reporting that Nets’ restricted free agent point guard D’Angelo Russell has the Timberwolves at the top of his free-agent wish list. Stein adds that while the Lakers still have undeniable interest in Russell, Minnesota is increasingly confident they can make the necessary salary-cap moves to land the 23-year-old All-Star.

The T-Wolves are expected to meet with Russell in Los Angeles this evening at the beginning of free agency. The meeting will reportedly feature new president of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, head coach Ryan Saunders, and Russell’s good friend, Minnesota big man Karl-Anthony Towns.

The Wolves currently project to be an over-the-cap team, but the Nets have already indicated that they’d be willing to entertain a sign-and-trade arrangement that would enable Russell to reach a destination of his choosing. The most likely salary-matching pieces, however, are Andrew Wiggins and Jeff Teague, both of whom the Nets have no interest in whatsoever. As such, Minnesota would likely need to throw in some other assets to make the deal worthwhile to Brooklyn.

Minnesota could also attempt to trade some combination of Wiggins, Teague, Gorgui Dieng, and Robert Covington to open up cap space, but it’s unclear at this point what teams, if any, are interested in acquiring one or more of those players.

Stein’s Latest: Capela, Gordon, Tucker, Lakers, Wolves, Grizzlies

When ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported last week that the Rockets were making virtually everyone on their roster besides James Harden available in trade talks, it was presented as general manager Daryl Morey doing his due diligence and being open to all options. Morey and owner Tilman Fertitta later praised Houston’s starting five and predicted it would return intact next season.

In his latest newsletter, however, Marc Stein of The New York Times paints a different picture. According to Stein, the Rockets are “actively” exploring the trade market for possible deals involving Clint Capela, Eric Gordon, and/or P.J. Tucker. One source with knowledge of the club’s thinking tells Stein that Houston is operating as if at least one of those three players won’t be on the roster next season.

Gordon, who has one year and $14MM left on his contract, and Tucker, who has about $16MM+ left over two years, may be easier for the Rockets to move than Capela, since they’re veterans capable of fitting in anywhere and wouldn’t require a long-term salary commitment. However, Capela’s four years of team control may appeal to a club that’s looking for an answer at center and hoping to avoid overpaying a free agent.

As we wait to see what Morey has up his sleeve, here are a few more minor items from Stein:

  • While the amount of years and money the Lakers were willing to offer Tyronn Lue contributed to negotiations breaking down, a disagreement over his staff was also a factor. According to Stein, general manager Rob Pelinka and advisor Kurt Rambis wanted to be able to select Lue’s assistants.
  • The Timberwolves are taking a similar approach under new head of basketball operations Gersson Rosas, according to Stein, who notes that Rosas brought back Ryan Saunders but dismissed his entire staff. Stein writes that Saunders wanted to hire Sidney Lowe as his lead assistant, but was rebuffed by management.
  • The Grizzlies, the only team still seeking a new head coach, are believed to be considering a new bench model. Memphis wants to have at least one of its assistant coaches hold a dual title that includes some personnel responsibilities, says Stein.